I was just talking to a friend of mine about part I of this article series when it occurred to me that getting yourself out of your email inbox includes training yourself as much as training the folks you interact with. You really have to make it work for yourself and be little disciplined to reap the benefits. This (cough) foreshadows part IV of this series. The good news is that I talk about some cool toys in this article that can really help solidify your commitment to reclaiming these hours.
Suss Out the Real Priorities
Once you’ve reduced your email load to a list of tasks, it can get a little overwhelming to look at your to-do list as it keeps piling up. At this point all you’ve done is add your email to a new or existing task. To prevent yourself from being sucked into addressing whatever task catches your eye first, don’t prioritize your to-do list until the end of the day.
Presumably you’ve done the needed triage so emails that can wait are now in this to-do list. If an email really can’t wait, by all means don’t put it in your to-do list and deal with it now. Otherwise, give yourself permission to wait and address it in due course and let’s put the list in order:
At the end of the day, after the third and final email review, prioritize the to-do list. The top two or three are usually fairly obvious. Assign a due date of “tomorrow” to the top three and categorize them. Most to-do list programs give you several options for organizing tasks. I find that six general categories are about the right level of detail.
Assign dates and categories to the rest of the tasks (due after tomorrow) but don’t agonize over them too much. You’ll find that by the end of tomorrow you’ll need to re-prioritize them anyway. You just want to have a general idea of where things fall.
Tomorrow, work on the top two or three tasks and cross them off when done. Since you no longer rummage through your inbox all day and you’ve blocked off your time to prevent an ad hoc meeting that might derail you (another article) you actually have time to work. Sweet!
There are loads of articles that talk about the benefits of sustained focus. So suffice it to say that with this block of time that you’ve reclaimed, you can be much more efficient than when you used to work out of your inbox. For our purposes call that 45 minutes a day.
Fun Toys That Makes Working Cool
Raise your hand if you don’t have a Smartphone. Oh. I’m sorry. Please put your Treo down and wait for the rest of the class. We’ll meet you down at the next section. For those of us with Smartphones, there are a few really cool toys you can use that help eek out more time for us to reclaim.
I use Evernote as my brain. Google Drive works too and there are lots of places online where you can dump everything you know. I like Evernote because it syncs instantaneously with all of my devices and I can access all of my files from any browser. It’s secure enough for my purposes but I don’t store anything really important there like passwords or bank account numbers.
Just like it sounds, I store all types of notes in my own Evernote space (account). I have twelve notebooks (categories) that range from my work notes to blog article ideas (like this one) to recipes. It allows just enough formatting capabilities, like bolding and bullets, to help me organize my thoughts, but not enough to get me bogged down.
Evernote has been great for taking notes in meetings or for jotting down ideas wherever I am. I almost always have my iPhone so I just add a new note, type what I need to get down, put it in the right notebook and hit save. I do love technology when it works. Evernote lets me do text searches through my notes and displays my notebooks in a logical way that makes it really easy to find things. I love looking through my notes only to find something I wrote months ago: “Wow, that’s a cool idea. Glad I didn’t lose that one.”
I Hate Typing On Screens
I do. I hate typing on tablets, iPhones, ATM machines, Kodak kiosks, whatever. I get so little tactile feedback that it’s impossible for me to have anything better than 50% accuracy. I didn’t save all this time organizing emails just so I could spend half my life trying to fix typos! Besides, when I was typing on my phone during a meeting it looked like I was texting my wife. Not cool. What did I do? I started bringing a little notebook to my meetings to write down my notes in my horrible, horrible handwriting. Then I’d go back to my office and type my notes into Evernote! I know. It used to make me cry but what could I do…
…I’ll tell you what I could do – I bought a really cool stylus and a new app! I figured since I was bringing my iPhone to meetings anyway that there must be a way to write into my phone. There is: I bought an eight dollar app called 7notes Premium. This little baby turns your entire iPhone into a handwriting capture device. Cool, but it doesn’t work with a normal pen and my finger’s too fat. I tried writing with a stylus that has a tip the size of a pencil eraser, but I couldn’t see what I was writing.
Then I found the Musemee stylus. This funky “pen” has a very thin rubber tip with a clear plastic “washer” around it. I wasn’t sure if it was a cover but I left it as is and started writing. And it works. It takes my turkey scratch and immediately translates it into text using optical character recognition (OCR). Better yet, it learns my horrible, horrible handwriting and continually improves the character recognition. After several weeks I would say it’s 95% accurate. Great, but here’s the best part: it automatically syncs with Evernote! Shhh I know, I know.
Now here’s how I roll: I go to a meeting with just my iPhone and my stylus. I scribble my thoughts into 7notes. 7notes translates them into text (I do have to do some clean up every once in a while). I push a button and my text gets saved as a new note in Evernote. When I need to work on the action items from the meeting, I open up Evernote on my desktop and I’m off. If a note is relevant to a task in my to-do list, I copy the note’s URL into the description of my task.
Two Freakin’ Hours Saved Every Day – Priceless
No more transferring from paper to screen. No more hunting down stuff I need to keep track of. It’s all there online, backed up and immediately accessible. There’s the last 15 minutes that I save every day.
- One hour saved not getting derailed by my inbox
- 45 minutes saved only focusing on two or three top priorities
- 15 minutes saved using technology to capture and organize my every bleedin’ thought
All work and no play makes Jack a dull, cross-eyed boy. So the next article in this series covers several ways to get the most out of those blocks of work time without frying our brains.